Something special seems to be brewing at East Central Community College. Again. Down five runs in the eighth inning on Tuesday against visiting East Mississippi, the Warriors rallied to win, 10-8, in extra innings, moving their record to 18-0 and notching coach Neal Holliman’s 500th win at the Decatur school. ECCC, the defending MACCC and Region 23 champion, is ranked 10th in the NJCAA Division II preseason poll and will surely jump when the first in-season poll is released. The Warriors won twice on Tuesday, beating 13th-ranked Meridian 14-2 in the first game of the three-team round-robin event. They hit three homers in that one, including a Kelby Jordan grand slam. They belted four more bombs in the win against East, two by Mo Little and a walk-off shot in the 10th by Brady McGee. ECCC is averaging almost 11 runs a game and has a 3.74 staff ERA. The Warriors play again on Saturday in a round-robin at Hinds, meeting Southeastern (Iowa) and the host Eagles. P.S. Lewisburg High, off to a 5-0 start, is ranked fifth in the latest MaxPreps Top 25. The Patriots, led by preseason All-America pick Samuel Richardson, are playing this weekend in the Perfect Game Showdown, a 60-team event at the Hoover Met in Alabama. Brandon, DeSoto Central and Hernando are also in the field. … Jackson Prep (9-1) is No. 22 in the MaxPreps poll as the only other state school in the rankings.
The anticipation for Shohei Ohtani’s first spring training at-bat with the Los Angeles Dodgers bordered on crazy. It’s fair to say that Garrett Crochet, the pride of Ocean Springs, stole a bit of the Japanese superstar’s thunder on Tuesday in Glendale, Ariz. Crochet, the Chicago White Sox’s 24-year-old left-hander making his first start since his college days four years ago, struck out Ohtani on four pitches, freezing him on a 100-mph fastball to end the AB. “I just made some good pitches,” Crochet told nbcsportschicago.com, noting that he had faced Ohtani a couple times in regular season games. (Yes, Ohtani later — in his third AB against a different White Sox pitcher — gave the crowd what it clamored for, hitting a two-run homer.) Crochet is coming off two injury-dampened seasons and is aiming to transition from the bullpen to the rotation in 2024. Tuesday’s outing was a nice first step. In addition to fanning Ohtani, he retired Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman on grounders in the first inning. He yielded a couple of one-out hits in the second but ended his day with another punchout. “The results were good,” he said. “Just got to keep grinding.” The 11th overall pick in the 2020 draft out of Tennessee, Crochet exploded on the MLB scene in September of that year, striking out the first two batters he faced while throwing six of 13 pitches in a clean inning at 100 mph or better. In 2021, he posted a 2.82 ERA in 54 games as a key reliever for the division-winning ChiSox. Tommy John surgery kept him out in 2022 and a shoulder problem limited him to 13 appearances last season. It’s fair to say that Tuesday’s outing was encouraging and there is a raised level of anticipation for his next one.
Pearl River Community College swept the MACCC individual honors for last week, with Hollis Porter taking the hitting award and J.P. Robertson the pitching laurels. Porter, from Hurley, hit .450 with three homers and 10 RBIs during No. 3 PRCC’s 4-2 week. The lefty slugger is tied for the NJCAA Division II lead with nine homers. Ex-Germantown High star Robertson threw six shutout innings, with nine strikeouts, in the Wildcats’ win over No. 20 Parkland. Robertson is 4-0 with a 3.00 ERA for 14-5 PRCC. … Barret Rodgers leads the nation with 30 RBIs for undefeated (16-0), 10th-ranked East Central CC, and Hinds CC’s Lincoln Sheffield is tied for the national lead with 37 strikeouts in 23 innings. … Jackson State’s Joseph Eichelberger, a junior outfielder from Georgia via Paul D. Camp CC, leads NCAA Division I in batting with a .692 average. … For the second time this season, Millsaps’ Wil Wood has earned the Southern Athletic Association pitcher of the week honor. Wood, a grad student, threw a no-hitter with 16 strikeouts against Westminster. He is 2-0 with a 1.00 ERA and 34 K’s on the season for the 8-3 Majors. … Mississippi College leads the Gulf South Conference in hitting with a .326 team average, followed by Delta State at .325. The Choctaws, 9-5 and 3-3 in the GSC, lead the league with 30 homers, topped by former DeSoto Central and East Mississippi CC standout Wesley Sides, who has seven bombs and a .488 average. DSU (9-5, 3-0) is also second in the GSC in runs with 122, having tallied 29 in a three-game sweep at Union University over the weekend. … William Carey University’s John Snyder is tied for the NAIA national lead with five saves. Rust’s Jalik Demar and Blue Mountain’s Hayden Redding are tied for third nationally with 13 stolen bases each.
While it is much too early in the NCAA Division I season for defining moments, Mississippi’s Big 3 did deliver affirming wins on Sunday. Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Southern Miss each won the rubber game in a home series against an unheralded opponent. At Hattiesburg, USM (6-2) rallied to beat Missouri State 5-4. Four Golden Eagles pitchers allowed just one earned run and struck out 17 batters. Davis Gillespie and Seth Smith produced clutch hits, freshman Smith’s RBI double giving the Eagles the lead in the sixth inning at Taylor Park. At Oxford, where Rebel Nation has grown restless, Ole Miss (4-4) lowered the boom on High Point with a 25-2 victory. The Rebels smacked five homers, three doubles and a triple among 16 hits. Duke transfer Andrew Fischer, who had been scuffling, went 3-for-4 with a homer, four RBIs and four runs. Four UM pitchers yielded six hits, three walks and fanned 11 at Swayze Field. At Starkville, where things also seem a bit unsettled, State (4-4) whipped Georgia Southern 10-2. David Mershon put up a 4-for-5 with two RBIs, and Bryce Chance and Connor Hujsak drove in three runs each. Jurrangelo Cijntje delivered a much-needed strong start (five innings, one run) at Dudy Noble Field. What’s next? USM plays Nicholls State on Tuesday at MGM Park in Biloxi. Ole Miss hosts Arkansas-Little Rock on Tuesday. And that same day, State welcomes Jackson State (6-2), which is coming off a 7-3 loss to Mississippi Valley State. It was the first win for new Valley coach C.J. Bilbrey, who had seen his club crushed by the Tigers in the first two games of the non-league series. Jesus Campa, a transfer from El Paso Community College, worked eight solid innings for Valley.
Who needs spring training? Ex-Ole Miss star Tim Elko, now a Chicago White Sox minor leaguer, homered in his first at-bat in the team’s Cactus League opener on Friday. Power is Elko’s thing. He blasted 28 homers across three levels of the minors in 2023 and has 33 in his two-year pro career. The first baseman/DH hit 46 in his four years at Ole Miss and helped the Rebels win the national championship in 2022. He reached Double-A last season and should get to Triple-A at some point in 2024. The season is several weeks away, but Elko looked ready on Day 1. Also making an appearance for the ChiSox was Southern Miss alum Chuckie Robinson, who went 0-for-1. The veteran catcher, who has some big league time, signed with Chicago as a minor league free agent this off-season. … Elsewhere in spring openers: Former Hattiesburg High standout Joe Gray Jr., now a Kansas City minor leaguer, went 1-for-1 with a walk and an RBI for the Royals against Texas, which trotted out three Magnolia State products: Mississippi State alum Nathaniel Lowe, the World Series-champion Rangers’ regular first baseman, was 0-for-2; Mississippi College alum Blaine Crim, a minor leaguer, went 0-for-2; and ex-MSU standout Justin Foscue, now on the Rangers’ 40-man roster, was hitless in two at-bats. … Ex-Pascagoula High star Willie Joe Garry Jr., a Minnesota minor leaguer, was 0-for-1 with two walks and two runs for the Twins, while USM product Matt Wallner, a starting outfielder for the Twins, put up an 0-for-2. … MSU alum Konnor Pilkington allowed a run in his one inning of work for Arizona. … And former DeSoto Central standout Blaze Jordan, who reached Double-A in 2023, played some third base and went 0-for-1 for Boston.
Delta State, pegged for a sixth-place finish in the Gulf South Conference this season, opens league play this weekend with a 6-5 record. The Statesmen will take on Union University for a three-game set (Friday-Saturday). DSU was the preseason favorite in the league poll in 2023 and finished eighth before reaching the championship round in the league tournament. Go figure. DSU is batting .323 as a team with a staff ERA of 6.00. The Statesmen are led by Brett Burrell, batting .444 with 11 RBIs, and Brendan McCauley, .391 with a homer and seven RBIs. … Mississippi College (8-3, 2-1 GSC) plays on the road for the first time this weekend, visiting league foe Auburn-Montgomery. … Blue Mountain Christian (11-3) has 19 home runs, seven by Arderrius Townsend, a former Northwest Mississippi Community College star. … Belhaven University is 3-3 heading into its first home games, a three-game set this weekend against St. Thomas at Trustmark Park in Pearl. … Mississippi Valley State will play its first games under new coach C.J. Bilbrey when the Delta Devils meet Jackson State (4-1) in a non-conference series, games at Braddy Field on Friday and Sunday and one in Itta Bena on Saturday. Joseph Eichelberger is batting a crazy .714 for JSU. … Southern Miss’ Nick Monistere was 0-for-10 heading into Wednesday’s game at New Orleans, then put up a 3-for-4 with a homer, five RBIs, four runs and two walks in the 4-1 Golden Eagles’ 15-10 victory. … Mississippi State is 13th and Ole Miss 14th in the Nashville Tennessean‘s latest SEC power rankings — and that was before both lost midweek games. MSU is 2-2, UM 2-3. The Rebels are batting .181 and have a 5.23 ERA. P.S. Pencil former East Central CC standout Tim Anderson in as Miami’s starting shortstop. The former All-Star and batting champ reportedly has signed a one-year, $5 million contract with the Marlins on the heels of a disappointing 2023 season (.245, one homer) with the Chicago White Sox. Jon Berti was in line for the Miami shortstop job.
This was a pretty cool idea: Twelve of the 15 teams in the MACCC got together Tuesday for three-way round-robin events at four locations. The other three teams will play a round-robin today. In Tuesday’s action, No. 3-ranked Pearl River Community College (12-3), No. 10 East Central (13-0) and unranked Mississippi Gulf Coast (10-2) went undefeated in their respective events. No. 13 Meridian (7-5) beat Coahoma but lost to Northeast in Booneville. At Goodman, Pearl River beat Itawamba behind two RBIs from Bryce Fowler and strong pitching by Eli Waters, then whipped host Holmes powered by Hollis Porter’s seventh home run of the year. At Ellisville, East Central — the defending state and region champ — blew past Copiah-Lincoln and host Jones by a combined 27-8 count. For the Warriors, Barret Rodgers drove in three runs against CLCC and Reid Hall picked up five RBIs vs. Jones. At Perkinston, Gulf Coast’s Brandon Cain won the opener vs. Southwest 9-1 with five stellar innings and then got four hits in an 11-10 thriller over East Mississippi. East, which beat Southwest, is 11-3. At Delta State’s Ferriss Field today, Hinds, Delta and Northwest will go at it.
Frierson Field, Clinton. William Carey University and Mississippi College, both off to good starts, renew their rivalry today. For the NCAA Division II Choctaws (7-3), Wesley Sides is on a jaw-dropping tear, batting .552 with six homers and 15 RBIs. MC has two other hitters, Cole Drake and J.T. Vance, with four homers each. And Caleb Reese, who has three bombs, is sitting on 35 career homers, tied for second on the school’s all-time list. (Richey Hines is No. 1 on that chart with 57. Yes, 57.) MC’s staff ERA is a tad troubling: 5.89. NAIA Carey (7-3) has been sparked offensively by Braydon Coffey at .462 and R.J. Stinson at .382. The Crusaders have just three homers as a team but do sport a 3.74 ERA. Closer John Snyder has five saves. … MC leads the series 6-2, per Carey’s website. Carey leads 14-9, per MC’s. P.S. Former Mississippi State star Brandon Woodruff, who is unlikely to pitch this season after shoulder surgery, has re-signed with Milwaukee, a two-year deal. The former All-Star is 46-26 with a 3.10 ERA for his career.
Shout-outs to some standouts from Opening Day in NCAA Division I:
Ethan Lege: The senior outfielder went 3-for-6 with a run and two RBIs, including the go-ahead knock in the 13th inning, as Ole Miss beat Hawaii 5-4 at Murakami Stadium.
Nikko Mazza: The junior right-hander out of Madison-Ridgeland Academy threw 5 1/3 shutout innings, allowing four hits and striking out eight, in Southern Miss’ 4-1 win over Marist at Taylor Park in Hattiesburg.
Bryce Chance: The junior outfielder, also an MRA product, hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the seventh inning as Mississippi State rallied past Air Force 8-4 before an announced 11,000-plus at Dudy Noble Field.
Davione Hull: The senior outfielder, from Grenada by way of Mississippi Valley State, went 1-for-3 with two RBIs, a walk and a steal in Jackson State’s 9-5 loss to Texas Southern in the Cactus Jack HBCU Classic in Houston.
Kalum Banks Jr.: The junior first baseman went 3-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs in Alcorn State’s 10-4 loss to Southern University in the Cactus Jack event.
The wrapper comes off for NCAA Division I schools on Friday and there is great anticipation around the state as to what may be revealed in 2024. There is a new coach at Southern Miss and another at Mississippi Valley State. Star players are gone from every team, and the rosters at Ole Miss and Mississippi State, in particular, have been stocked with newcomers, many of them portal transfers. Here’s a quick look at some players to watch in the early going:
At USM, where Christian Ostrander takes over for Scott Berry as the man in charge, the key player might prove to be veteran Slade Wilks. The senior DH from Columbia hit .289 with 20 home runs and 58 RBIs for the 2023 Golden Eagles and was a Ferriss Trophy finalist. Ostrander calls him the “oak tree in that lineup.” USM, which went 46-20 last year and hosted a Super Regional (losing to Tennessee), opens at Taylor Park against Marist.
At State, where the Bulldogs return sluggers Hunter Hines (a Ferriss finalist) and Dakota Jordan, the emphasis has to be on improved pitching. Nate Dohm, 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior right-hander with strikeout stuff, figures to play a key role there. A transfer from Ball State in 2023, he went 6-4 with a 4.07 ERA in 17 appearances for a team that finished 27-26 and had an SEC-worst 7.01 ERA. Dohm and the Bulldogs start with Air Force at Dudy Noble.
At Ole Miss, where MLB draftees Jacob Gonzalez, Kemp Alderman (Ferriss Trophy winner) and Calvin Harris have moved on, the transfer portal brought in a host of newcomers. Notable among them is Luke Hill, a Baton Rouge native who played at Arizona State last season. Hill, who hit .314 with six homers and 42 RBIs as a freshman for the Sun Devils, takes over at shortstop, where Gonzalez was a three-year star. The Rebels, national champs in 2022, tumbled to 25-29 last year. They open at Hawaii.
At Jackson State, where last year’s 28-25 record and two-and-out finish in the SWAC Tournament was a disappointment, the Tigers must replace their best hitter, Ty Hill (a Ferriss finalist), and a top starter, Jesse Caver. Offensive spark could come from Myles White, a senior second baseman who batted .327 (.462 OBP), drove in 23 runs and scored 36 in 49 games. The Tigers open in the six-team Cactus Jack HBCU Classic in Houston, where they’ll play Texas Southern in their first game, Alcorn State in their second.
P.S. Alcorn, coming off an 8-40 season, opens against Southern University on Friday in the Cactus Jack event. Valley, 15-36 in 2023, will launch the C.J. Bilbrey era on Feb. 23 at Jackson State.